Middlesbrough V Arsenal at Riverside Stadium : Match Preview

16 April 2017

Middlesbrough boss Steve Agnew has sympathy for under-fire Arsene Wenger

Steve Agnew will go head-to-head with embattled Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitting the Frenchman's plight shows just how difficult Premier League management can be.

Wenger and his side will arrive at Middlesbrough on Monday evening scrapping to keep themselves in the race for a top-four finish, having slipped nine points adrift of Liverpool with two games in hand over the weekend.

The Gunners boss is facing concerted calls for his head after a disappointing campaign by the club's standards, even with his track record, and Boro's interim head coach believes that simply demonstrates how tough life at the top can be.

Agnew, who desperately needs a first victory of his fledgling reign against Arsenal, said: "Absolutely. The game is results-driven, we all know that, and he's had 20 years at Arsenal, which is an amazing achievement.

"Of course they're in a difficult moment, certainly away from home. But they have got top-quality players throughout the team, so we have no doubt it will be a really, really difficult game.

"It is a challenge because he's got top, top players through the squad. It's full of internationals and Arsene Wenger, in my opinion, is one of the most talented coaches there's been around for many years.

"Of course it's a challenge, but one I am very much looking forward to."

Agnew was installed as Aitor Karanka's temporary replacement last month, when he was handed he chance to make the job his on a permanent basis.

Four games in he has two draws to his name, but finds Boro six points from safety, again having played two fewer games than most of the sides around them, yet with time fast running out.

The pressure is growing by the week, although the head coach is urging his players to let him bear that weight.

He said: "A playing career obviously is something that you never want to end. You prepare yourself for the game within the team.

"But obviously coaching is different, completely different, because you now have a 25-man squad to manage and to work on. But it's something I have always enjoyed doing and I'll continue to do so.

"I'm enjoying it. Obviously it is and it continues to be a challenge, but a challenge that I'm enjoying and relishing. The response from all the players and all the staff has been first class."

Agnew has been boosted by the return of George Friend and Gaston Ramirez from calf and ankle injuries respectively, and his only absentee for the game will be Calum Chambers, who is ineligible to play against his parent club under the terms of his loan agreement.

Meanwhile, Wenger has admitted he is unsure whether the uncertainty over his future is affecting his players on the pitch.

A number of supporters have been protesting in recent weeks as they want the 67-year-old to leave following a slide in results which has seen Arsenal lose seven of their last 12 games in all competitions.

The torrid run included a 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and a string of damaging Premier League losses, with Monday's 3-0 reverse at Crystal Palace leaving them sixth in the table.

Previously Wenger has refused to accept that the doubt over his future has impacted performances, despite the seeming correlation between his lack of announcement and an alarming drop-off in results.

But the Frenchman said the two could be linked.

"I honestly don't know but I hope not," he said when asked about a level of instability due to all the uncertainty over his plans. "When I speak about mental test it is to perform, no matter what the circumstances are around you. Is that an influence? I'd say I hope not.

"But what is for sure is that in the last three months there has been no consistency, especially away from home. At home we have not been disastrous in the quality of performance."

While Wenger's future is of immediate importance, both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil see their own contracts expire in 2018 and neither are yet to agree fresh terms.

Ozil said last week he wants to know what the manager's plans are before any agreement is reached, and with both key players coming in for criticism for their individual performances of late, Wenger said that could be down to the lack of clarity over his future.

"I don't know," he said, when asked if his negotiations have affected Ozil's performances.

"It can sometimes...He may be coming to the end of his contract but you perform until the last day of that contract. That is how I see it.

"The impact of that (his future) I don't know. We have to focus on what is important and that is what happens on the pitch. Top-level sportsmen have to be like that."